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“You’re going to come on my tongue”—he licked my center once more—“because I need to taste you for a long time.”

Holy fuck. Kai’s dirty talk might have been the single most arousing thing about him. I pushed away the question of what he said to other girls, and pretended his words were for me and me alone.

He inched two fingers inside me and watched closely as I whimpered and breathed his name. When he removed them I almost protested. Until he parted my folds with his thumbs and drew my swollen center into his mouth.

He alternated between sucking and then flicking his tongue against me, and it didn’t take me long to draw nearer to that edge. I had that swooping feeling in my stomach, like I was about to plunge forward into the dark abyss of my orgasm.

“Oh God . . . so close . . . so close.”

He held my nub between his teeth and then soothed it with his tongue, as I ground my hips against his mouth. His thumb replaced his lips and applied direct pressure to my bundle of nerves.

I felt him lick lower and then tunnel inside me. The sensation of his tongue ring in such an intimate place provided a friction that built to an all-consuming level. The feeling was indescribable. Before I knew it, pinpoints of light danced around the edges of my vision, and I detonated.

“Fuck, Kai . . . fuuuuuuck.” My legs shook and I tried moving away from him but he grasped my thighs and thrust his tongue deeper still.

And shit, I couldn’t even wrap my brain around what in the hell he was doing to me. I was too busy trying to get control of my quavering stomach and hands and mouth.

Finally he removed his tongue and licked me slow and gentle until I sank against the wall, completely spent.

He stood up and allowed the fabric of my dress to fall so that it covered me again.

I looked down at his raging hard-on and felt the need to take care of him as well.

As if reading my mind, he backed away. He reached down for my underwear on the ground, stuffed it in his pocket, and then twisted the door handle. “I’ll get those back to you later.”

Before I could protest, he was gone.

Like, gone gone. From the bar. From the casino.

Shane and Dakota barely noticed I had returned; they were so immersed in their own little world. And I was glad for that because I had no idea how I even looked—probably thoroughly fucked. I’d had just enough sense to smooth some strands of my hair in the bathroom mirror. I searched around but didn’t see Kai near the band either.

Shane said that Kai texted him that he was leaving, and Dakota made a crack about the blond he’d been talking to earlier. My stomach bunched up at her words, but I knew he wouldn’t have just been with me and then left the casino with her. Would he?

But I did wonder where he had gone, and why he’d felt the need to leave so abruptly. He was so turned on and I was willing to help, but he didn’t want me to.

Had he let the blond assist him instead?


We stayed for one more drink before heading home.

Kai’s car was in the parking lot, and when we got up to the condo, the door to his room was closed and his lights were out.

“Night,” I said to Dakota as I turned to go in my room.

Draped across my pillow were my black panties.

Chapter Twenty-four


I sat on my bed, making a pile of my freshly-washed jeans, listening to a CD that Cameron, the drummer I’d met from the casino, had loaned me. It was of his jazz quartet, and they sounded pretty good.

This sort of music—my favorite kind of music—made me want to smoke a joint, inhale deeply, and revel in the beat. Strangely enough, though, that was the last thing I wanted to do today. Initially, I stuck to folding laundry because of the promise I’d made to Rachel and my parents. But now that I was sober, I realized that I could focus on every riff—every baseline melody. It brought a whole new depth to the composition in front of me.

When I dug through my laundry basket and pulled out a pair of Rachel’s blue panties that had mixed in with my boxer briefs, I knew we’d taken too many chances in the middle of the night.

Rachel had come to my room a few times in the last couple of weeks, and I’d gotten in the bad habit of holding her underwear hostage. It was a little game we played. She’d slip into my sheets as quietly as possible and then into my arms. Most of the time we made out like a couple of lovesick teenagers—at least that’s how it felt for me.

I wasn’t exactly sure what was happening on her end, except that she took comfort in me. As soon I tucked her into my chest, her whole body would relax. She’d breathe into my neck and sigh. And sometimes she’d fall asleep. It was fucking incredible.

Other times we’d search each other’s bodies with our hands—only our hands—trying to keep silent, with most of our clothes on. Well, I always kept my clothes on. I couldn’t be held responsible for how much I needed to touch and pleasure her.

But we tried to be careful, especially after one night when we heard Dakota rummaging around in the kitchen, sounding restless and troubled about something. I could feel Rachel’s pulse beating double time against her neck as we waited Dakota out for a long, painstaking hour before Rachel was able to return to her room.

On the nights when we explored and held each other—trying like hell not to get too caught up in our desire for each other—I’d pocket her underwear and then plant it somewhere for her to notice the next day.

Now I shoved her underwear beneath my own in my drawer, intending to get it back to her later. But I knew today wasn’t the day for jokes. Rachel’s friends were coming up for the Music Center show tonight. She’d been a wreck about it all week, but her anxiety had skyrocketed to a fever pitch when she had been in my room last night.

“I’m afraid to tell you,” she had whispered at first, curled up tightly in my arms.

“Why are you so afraid?” I’d tunneled my fingers through the back of her hair, trying to put her at ease.

“I’m scared what you’ll think of me.” She had looked up, and I’d seen trepidation in her eyes. “I . . . I’ve made some mistakes.”

“We all make mistakes,” I’d said. “I’ve fucked up more times than I can count. So whatever you have to say won’t surprise me.”

Except that it had. It made me wonder just how far off-course she’d gotten in the last three years. But, truth be told, I also liked this new Rachel. I liked how much more confident and sure of herself she’d become. She was closer to the Rachel I knew before she dated Miles, anyway.

Everybody goes through shit in life. Shit that can change you. And what Rachel had gone through would change anybody. So I couldn’t fault her for that.

“Out with it,” I’d said, and she’d tensed in arms.

“I . . . I lied to them.” She sighed, finally letting it loose. “To my friends in college. I’m such an idiot.”

I couldn’t imagine what she could have possibly lied about that made her this uneasy. “I know you didn’t tell them about the accident and your rehab. So what else did you lie about?”

“About Miles. I told them that I broke it off with him,” she said in a rush. Probably in an effort to get it all out. “I exaggerated about that ring he gave me—I know it was a stupid-ass promise ring, but I told them it was an engagement ring and that I wasn’t ready for that.”

I remembered how she wore it so proudly on a chain around her neck. I’d always questioned why the fuck you’d give someone a ring in high school. I’ll admit, it had made me wonder if Miles had bigger feelings for her than I suspected.

Until I overheard him one day in the hall after school. His friends had been ragging on him about it, asking him if Rachel had guilted him into giving it to her. And he’d just shrugged and played along. Didn’t even stand up for her or their relationship. Big pussy.

“And then I pretended that I was just having some wild fun after being in such a serious relationship,” Rachel said, snapping me out of my thoughts. “When instead I was just . . . doing whatever the hell I was doing with those jocks.”

My jaw tightened. It was hard to hear that. “What were you doing with those guys?” I had no right to ask, but somehow it slipped out.

“Mostly making out. Sometimes sex . . .” She trailed off and then looked up at me. “Safe sex. Always. It felt good to be the one in control. I decided who I wanted to get lost in and for how long . . .”

I tried to steady my reaction. I needed to be a friend. But wasn’t she essentially doing the same with me? I shouldn’t have been hurt. I’d known all of this going in.

“Please don’t look at me that way. You’re the only one who . . .”

“Who what?”

“You’re the only one who I can talk to. Who might understand.” Her eyes were timid and soft. “I’m sure you wouldn’t want me to question you about all of your . . . girls.”

“You’re right, I wouldn’t,” I said, tightening my hand into a fist. “And I do understand. And for the record, I’ve been safe, too.”

Little did she realize I hadn’t been with any girls since I’d laid eyes on her this summer. That’s why I didn’t want her to question me. Because I didn’t want her to know that she was the only girl I’d been thinking about. “So let’s go back to the thing you’re really upset about. The lie.”

“Yeah,” she said. “Everything was a lie. I was a lie. They knew I’d had a rough time, but after that one conversation, we never talked about it again. They didn’t know how dark it really was. How dark it still is. I’d hang out with them as the careless, fun one and then go back to my apartment and brood about everything else. I don’t know what the fuck was wrong with me. I just didn’t want to let anyone in.”

“Bet it’s hard, though, keeping up a façade like that.” My eyes flashed to the pained look on her face, and my heart expanded.

“It got old.” She shook her head as if clearing away that other part of herself. “Pretty sure I’m done.”

I wanted to ask if that meant she was done with other guys. If she was done with me. But the idea of that terrified me. Besides, our time together went beyond a hookup, because we had roots. Familiarity. Companionship. Didn’t we?

Even though the lines were all distorted and blurred, I didn’t want it to end.

Not yet. Not ever. But I knew it would, in a just few short weeks. So I’d rather pretend it never would, than to question it now.

“So fix it.” I lifted her chin with my thumb.

She had trouble meeting my eyes; hers were laden with guilt. “How?”

“By coming clean to them this weekend,” I said, kissing her head. “And with Dakota after that. You’ll feel better when you do.”

“And what if they’re done with me?” she said, worrying her lip between her teeth. “I mean, Avery and Ella.” One set of problems at a time.

“Then you didn’t have a basis of friendship after all,” I said, and I felt her shoulders grow rigid. Whether or not she’d admit it, she cared more for these girls than she’d been letting on. “They hung out with you for a reason, right?”

“They might have just thought I was good for a laugh. I was the ‘life of the party,’” she said, using her fingers as air quotes.

Who was this Rachel she was describing? Happy-go-lucky, not a care in the world?

I mean, she was always fun, a blast, even. But she could also be serious, give good advice, and be a great friend. The persona she had adopted at TSU sounded exhausting. And meaningless.

But hadn’t I been doing the same thing? Carefree playboy, troublemaker, ready for a good time. Except she’d been actively participating and I’d been actively avoiding. Using pot as my crutch. Fuck, we were more alike than I’d ever imagined. Both of us needed to get our shit together.

“Maybe,” I said, knowing full well Rachel was charming in so many other ways. “Or maybe your friends see beyond the pretense and are just waiting for you to share more of yourself.”

“I hope so, because they’re really cool.” She settled into my chest again and let out a sigh. I pulled her closer, rubbed circles on her back, and soon enough her head went limp against my shoulder.

“Does this mean you’re not mad?” she said in her groggy voice. “You still care about me, Kai?”

I knew she meant it in a brotherly, best-friend way. But I couldn’t help taking a deep breath and squeezing my eyes shut at just hearing those words fall from her sweet lips.

“Of course I’m not mad.” Her fingers increased their pressure on my forearm. I leaned closer to her ear and whispered, “I’ll always care about you, Turtle.”

Ik houd van jou. Even after you’re gone.

She hummed into my neck, and we both drifted off to sleep soon after.

Thankfully, I woke before dawn. The sky was turning pink, and I nudged Rachel awake so she could return to her bed.

She sat up, wiped at her eyes with the backs of her hands, and then pushed her legs over the side of the bed. I knew I wouldn’t get to see much of her this weekend with our friends around, so I grasped her hand and tugged her back down.

There was no resistance as she cocooned into me again. I gently kissed her neck, and she ground her hips against mine. I had a raging hard-on like I always did when she was curled up next to me, and I tried adjusting myself in my shorts.

My fingers grazed beneath her shirt to touch her breasts. She wasn’t wearing a bra—she rarely came to my room with one on anymore—and her nipples hardened on contact.